Zero vs. "that" relatives (and TIME Corpus)

Mark Davies Mark_Davies at BYU.EDU
Tue Dec 30 14:40:14 UTC 2008

I've been in DIGEST mode over the holiday break, hence the delay in responding:

> > here it would be nice to have data from a source other than Time, to
> > find out whether the change was the result of changing editorial
> > practices at the magazine.

>> My feelings exactly. It might be hard to extrapolate the Time data to
>> journalistic usage more generally,

On the other hand ....

During the past year, I've had my students use the TIME Corpus ( as part of papers they've written on 40-50 different syntactic / stylistic shifts in American English from the 1920s-2000s. These have covered a wide variety of topics -- modals (shall/will, will/going to, can/may), preposition stranding, several phenomena with verbal complementation, aspects of morphology (gender, plurals, +/-regular verbal forms), get vs be passives, progressives, subjunctive, etc etc etc (see list at The data from the corpus has been quite useful. In most cases, it models very nicely what others have already found with smaller, "boutique" corpora.

In addition, though, I mentioned the following yesterday in a private email (which I didn't post directly to ADS-L):

The TIME corpus is more or less a stopgap, until a larger, more diverse, more balanced corpus of historical American English is available. I'm currently working on a 300 million word "Corpus of Historical American English" (COHA), which will complement the nearly 400 million word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA): .
COHA will cover approximately 1810-present, and it will be balanced (for each decade, and therefore overall as well) between fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, and other non-fiction. Once completed, this will allow us to examine -- for the first time -- how specific changes have spread over time through different genres in American English. Thus the TIME corpus -- while quite useful for many things -- is more or less a stopgap for the 1900s, until COHA is completed.

Mark Davies
Professor of (Corpus) Linguistics
Brigham Young University
(phone) 801-422-9168 / (fax) 801-422-0906

** Corpus design and use // Linguistic databases **
** Historical linguistics // Language variation **
** English, Spanish, and Portuguese **

The American Dialect Society -

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